Author Archive

Encouraging Playful Design in Computer Science

Posted in Uncategorized on May 6, 2010 by Gregory Garrett

In this paper we describe our vision for playful design in the realm of computer science education.  As a concept, playful design has been in existence since Paul Rand’s seminal work published in 1965.  However, its application has been limited to more traditional design fields, such as art and architecture.  We believe it can be effectively applied to computer science design exercises as well, helping to better pique student interest.  For this, we compare two current development environments aimed at introductory computer science education, discussing where they fulfill the principles of playful design and where they do not.  Then we will sketch out a hypothetical system that we believe comes closer to embodying those principles.

Paper: playful_design_and_cs

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Text Rain

Posted in Uncategorized on April 12, 2010 by Gregory Garrett

An interesting installation that allows users to manipulate falling text by simply moving their body.

Project Proposal: Playful Computing

Posted in Uncategorized with tags on March 10, 2010 by Gregory Garrett

In the papers we have read for class, the concept of playful design has been limited primarily to the teaching of architectural design.  The exercises presented have been visual, emphasizing the spatial relations so important to that field.  However, the general concept of playful design, that is of using problems with defined limits conducive to the play instinct, should be applicable across most intellectual endeavors.  For my project, I propose to apply this concept to the realm of computer science, investigating activities which will encourage students, and even professionals, to explore and create more using the rigid structure of a programming language.  The ultimate goal is to move the student from asking “what can this do?” to “what can I do with this?”; it is this second state in which play and creativity occur.

There exist a number of programming activities that approximate the goals of playful design.  When I was in elementary school we used LOGO to create graphics and learn the basics of computer programming.  It had an instruction set simple enough for a child to understand, yet robust enough to allow for complex visual creation.  Just Another Perl Hacker (JAPH), and indeed code obfuscation activities in general, are means of pushing programming languages to their limits.  For such exercises the individual is decidedly asking “what can I do with this?” as they consider novel ways of programming typically mundane algorithms.

Playful design for computer programming does not even have to be confined to traditional programming languages.  Siftables are micro-computers that can be programmed to perform simple tasks and which can interact with each other to accomplish more complex goals.  The appeal of such devices is that they are physically manipulated, allowing the user to explore different combinations to quickly determine their effects.  In this way, the student can learn about such computing concepts as piping and objects without even having to learn a programming language.

For my project, I expect to learn more about such computer programming activities that would encourage the student to engage in playful design.  Not just more obvious applications, but also ones which are not readily apparent.  I also expect to determine the impact such exercises have on the student’s willingness to explore the programming language construct.  Finally, I wish to investigate how such activities may be used in an academic setting, to engage students learning a new programming language and keep them interested in learning more about it.

Pneuma Box design

Posted in 03.Cardboard Furniture Design on January 25, 2010 by Gregory Garrett

Recently, a friend of mine gave me this set of strange looking paper blocks called “pneuma-box“.  At first I wasn’t sure what to do with them, being as they are “paper craft for philosophers”.  However, I thought they would be great in applying a little playful design to the cardboard furniture project.  They offer some constraints in that there are only four blocks, and each block is the same geometric shape, so there are a limited number of combinations.  Yet through this I have devised a few promising, albeit crude, designs:

Pneuma Box design

The pneuma box in all its glory

I hope to deploy this during my group’s design session to see if it helps in a team design setting.

Taking a less formulaic approach to collaborative design

Posted in 02.Design and the Play Instinct on January 25, 2010 by Gregory Garrett

In undergraduate classes we are often given a rather formulaic, theoretical version of what the team design process looks like.  People are assigned roles, people are to defer criticism, a list of steps are executed, etc.  Yet, in reality, people never act quite as well as they do in theory.  This was part of the strength of the Collaboration in Design Teams paper, that the focus was less on high-minded steps and more on the social dynamic that goes into successful team design.  For instance, it states that certain team members can be expected to be advocating for concrete solutions from the beginning, something forbidden in brainstorming, but which is somewhat unavoidable in a group of problem solvers.  This is less of an issue so long as the team is properly balanced, with members who think at a more abstract level about a particular design choice, and a member who is willing to keep things on track.  The hardest part of creating a design team, then, is in selecting members that naturally fit these criteria, rather than attempting to force members into arbitrary roles.